One Doctor’s Quest to Save the World With Data
In Rwanda, people have to deal with all kinds of threats to their health: malaria, HIV/AIDS, severe diarrhea. But in late 2012, Agnes Binagwaho, Rwanda’s Minister of Health, realized her country’s key health enemy was something far more innocuous. The thing causing the most harm to her people, the leading risk factor for premature death and disability, was inside their own homes: Dirty indoor air, from cooking food over burning dung and vegetation in poorly ventilated huts. Within weeks, Binagwaho announced a program to distribute one million clean cookstoves to the poorest households in the young, mostly rural country.
Binagwaho was able to improve millions of lives thanks to a new kind of medical record-keeping, only possible in this era of big data. Just as Billy Beane, general manager of the Oakland Athletics, used sabermetrics to maximize wins, epidemiologists can crunch data to determine the so-called global burden of disease—information that can be used to optimize the health of a neighborhood, nation, or the entire globe. Call it Moneyball for public health.